Is art objective or subjective ? My theory

4 posts in this topic

I have a theory on this subject, wich I ruminated a lot. Read if so inclined, I would love to hear your thoughts. I'll try to lay it out as clearly as I can. Pardon my spelling errors, I'm french.

I believe a lot of people are stuck in a blind spot/double standard on this topic. 

I also think it's actually rarely seriously discussed because it is a sort of taboo. Yet this blind spot makes for a huge percentage, if not the totality of all conflict. 

My area of expertise, and profession is art. I'm a musician and an actor/playwrighter. This is my world, I was basically born into it and I consider myself a master. Really really not trying to sound arrogant, or tryning to do an appeal to autority just trying to paint a picture of where I come from without bulshitting. Therefore, I'll aply this theory on art and art appreciation, even tho it can expend to other things. 


Let's say Lea loves Chostakovitch's "9th symphony" (modern russian classical composer), and she hates Nicky Minaj's "Starship". She feels the symphony is a marvel of beauty, depth, complexity, and the song is childishly simplistic, not infused with any interesting musical ideas and musically dead.

Marc feels the opposite. He thinks the symphony is a bunch of garbage sounds, very unplaisant, not catchy at all and boring, and that the songs, is upbeat, beautiful, sexy, and just makes him feel good. 

Those two have an heated discution about there vision of music. We'll analyze this argument there having from an exterior perspective


Let's analyse one type of paradigm to this situation, wich I will call the "subjectivity paradigm". It would go something like this : 


"Marc and Lea have different tastes. It's okay, one isn't better than the other. They are both right, what matters is what makes them feel good. It's okay to have different opinions."


Now let's analyze the other type of paradigm, we'll call it the "objectivity paradigm". It goes like this : 


"Lea simply has better taste than Marc and she is right. The symphony is a massively better piece of music than the song. The work of Chostakovitch is a thousand times more intricate, rich, intelligent, beautiful, philosophically and musically rich, technically proeficent and complex than the song. The symphony is objectivally better". 


So, what is the right paradigm ? If we take the spiral dynamic approach, the objectivity one, (we'll call it OB) seems blue/orange and the subjectivity one (we'll call it SUB) seems orange/green. I put orange in both because orange seems to have a mixed approach to art, where on one hand it might likes to classify it good or bad, but on the other hand, it might argue that it is not science therefore not objective and a matter of sensibilities.


I believe I have the green perspective. Here it is.

OB and SUB are both right on one level and wrong in another level. In order to understand what we’re talking about, we need to understand what those levels are.

OB is right on one level of thought and SUB is right on another level of artistic appreciation thought. What are those levels of thoughts ? 


LEVEL ONE : basic sensory appreciation. No analysis, just "how does it make me feel". This is a subjectivity level.

LEVEL TWO : Attempt at objective analysis. Analysis of the art according to a huge quantity of different human artistic standards to arrive at an objective answer with measurable qualities. Note that there are many different standards to use to measure.

LEVEL THREE : absolute thinking. Everything is one, one piece of art isn’t better than the other, because that would be according to human standards, and this level is from an absolute perspective. Note that from this level, murder isn’t any more evil than the collapsing of a star.

It’s important to understand that there is no hierarchy between those levels, there can be compared to sight, sound and touch. Now the huge problem when people fail to communicate while talking about art is that they don’t know on what level there are talking. Two persons talking about a music piece from different levels won’t be able to understand each other. The dialogue between them would be akin to: “The banana taste sugary, right” and the other “No, it's yellow.”

SO is art subjective or objective ? The answer is this :

From level one art is subjective, from level two it’s objective and from level three it’s subjective.

Therefore a productive conversation about art should begin like this : “

-        Let’s talk about art.

-        On what level do you want to talk ?

-        Let’s have a level two conversation.

-        Alright, Chostakovitch symphony is better than Starship because so and so and so.”

-        Now let’s have a level one conversation.

-        Alright, I don’t like the symphony because I’m not sensible to the aesthetic of violence that he’s trying to evoke. It doesn’t move me because so and so and so.


Using this model, a person who wants to think greatly about art should be able to love a piece on level one, but admits that it’s not a good piece from level two, and, inversely, hate a piece from level one, but see it’s qualities from level two.

Using a personnal exemple, I like barbie girl from aqua. It makes me feel good, those harmonies and melodies evoque something in me (level 1). However I don't think it's a very interesting, intricat or brilliant piece of music at all (level 2).     I think Schuman's second piano concerto is a great work of harmonic complexity, structure and innovation. (lev 2). However, his style doesn't do anything for me, I get bored listening to it, because it doesn't evoque anything in my emotionnal mind. Lacks humor, and rythme stability to captivate me." (lev 1)

Level one and two are the levels primerly useful here. I won’t go into level three because it’s not practical for this use. Level three isn’t conversational, to determine anything because it’s just one simple truth : there are no good and bad in the absolute thinking. Everything just is.

Using this approach, one can finally stop having this redundant sentence that resonates like a perpetual apology : “It’s just my opinion”. You can just say “I’m talking from level one”.

If you’re talking from level two, it’s not “just your opinion”, you’re trying to get to the truth and you either succeed, or fail, or, most of the time, fall in between.



If you guys read this far thank you very much. I’ll be happy to clarify and discuss.

Edited by Fredodoow

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@Fredodoow  I'll answer a bit briefly and give an intuitive take of this, with three semi constructed thought examples. I think the main problem with this framing is people misusing the statement of art is subjective to justify their bad art as good art and to nullify all types of critics to it. Another problem is thinking that art is only subjective and there's no objectivity to it. Also, art is not valuable because it lacks any objective standards is a problem too. These three problems are in large due to a person not being able to recognize the many different levels of art existentially speaking, and not catch on the many ways art can be purposed for what and for whom.

   Also, what makes art considered objective and subjective, is the context in terms of history and catalogued information surrounding that art piece so far for the objectivity of the art piece, along with a person's worldview, psychological development, cognitive and moral development, personality type, mind and body type, states of consciousness and life experiences and other lines of development. For example, look at the three examples below of three scenarios:

1. I have made an abstract painting of a building, that I made. I'm just an abstract painter, with little experience with designing buildings, with some extroversion and whimsicality to my personality. On a whim, with my small team that I care less for in favor for my own art, I blueprint it and construct it into the real world for 100 people to view and go in. However, the building collapses, killing 20, injuring 50, the other 30 are lucky. As I have nearly zero experience being an architect, designing architecture, adhering little to art fundamentals and instead wanted to be radically different, believing my design works because I say so. What? art is subjective, you can't critic my artwork, it's the fault of the other team members, they designed the building in the wrong way. 

2. I have predominantly stage orange, with some stage green and yellow values and skills, I am cognitively more aware of myself and other's views and am morally able to understand and empathize with those members more. Due to my introverted personality with some extroversion, more intuitive than logical and visually dominant mind, I made a realistic drawing and painting of a building in my mind first in 3d, before drawing and painting it as an experienced drawer and painter. My state of consciousness is such that I am aware of almost all my design limitations, and the limitations of feedback from my team members, so I adjust to current situations as needed and any feedback for later I file away. As an Architect, with my small team, I design this building into the real world for 100 people to enjoy, and none were hurt by my design, as I have studied other building designs of other artists and engineers and adhered to principles and theory that has worked for many decades for the times in my life that worked. I honor and am aware of art existing as a spectrum between functional art and creative art, and both extremes are in a balancing path.

3. I am an engineer and architect experienced in life. I am far more rationally minded, logical, and values that are even more in stage orange. I am cognitively divergent as I'm autistic and focus on the numbers, visually dominant, introverted personality. I don't get along with most, and my moral compass mostly circles around me and my family and the few friends I have, and not to the rest of the team. As long as the building is functional, I don't care for the aesthetics. Who the hell needs aesthetics? 100 people came to view the building, inside and out. Nobody died, but their feedback was that the building is too simple and bland. I don't care, at least the jobs and functionality are such that nobody died and am not to blame.

   Try to see, compare and contrast the 3 scenarios, and how the three points of view, view art as. One sees art as purely subjective and uses that to justify bad art decisions and obfuscate responsibility for the harm and deaths of the people in the building. The 2nd perspective recognizes the validity and soundness of art being both functional and aesthetics and makes sure that the people are not only safe but are also mesmerized by the design as well. The 3rd point of view is too rational and too into being logical and engineering to even consider the aesthetics of the building's design. While this view has achieved the safety of all the viewers, this point does not consider the feedback of aesthetics valid, as it cares far more for functionality than pleasing design and leans too heavily to the art objectivity, potentially killing off the creative aspects and possibilities.

   The aim is to work towards the 2nd person's views more, to realize that art can be both functional and aesthetically pleasing, and to be construct aware and context sensitive to use whichever spectrum more or less, to actively balance.

   I will definitely come back after reading this some more and contemplating. Does my post make sense on some level?

Edited by Danioover9000

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11 hours ago, Fredodoow said:

Therefore a productive conversation about art should begin like this :

Most people already do this. They differentiate between your levels by asking "did you like it", "was it enjoyable" vs. "is it good", "did it get a good score", "how does it compare to Other Thing?".

Yes, artistic standards are the key. Standards are to criticism what time is to racing.

The standards the would put a symphony above a pop song are derived from the Western Canon.

Edited by OnePointTwo

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Next level:

This is the most complete and extended opus from the ongoing series, exploring complexity emergence, based on the feedback loops.

Multidomain image-to-image transforming neural network StarGAN2 has been used here recurrently, reprocessing its own output without additional inputs. The models have been trained on both figurative imagery and abstract art, to enrich and intensify visual & semantic experience. Moreover, part of the training data was synthetic itself: few source datasets were generated with custom StyleGAN2 models, adding another layer of mediation to distance even farther from the real.
What we eventually get is an ever-changing shape-shifting loosely controlled abstract flux, which appears more lifelike and expressive on its own, than obscure resemblance of the origin flesh, stuck in neural convolutions.

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